Originally created 07/17/02

Hopeful narrows Walker's fund lead



SAVANNAH, Ga. - Democrat Tony Center has poured $255,282 of his own money into his campaign for Congress, narrowing the money gap in the 12th District primary with fund-raising leader Charles Walker Jr.

Mr. Walker, whose father is the Democratic leader of the Georgia Senate, has been the presumed front-runner among seven Democrats competing for the party's nomination in the new district, which snakes from Athens to Augusta to Savannah.

But new campaign disclosures show Mr. Center's personal loans have diminished the financial dominance Mr. Walker showed three months ago, when he had raised nearly double the amount of his nearest opponent.

Reports filed Monday show Mr. Walker, an Augusta businessman and first-time candidate, has raised $354,587 total, with $259,386 left in the bank.

Mr. Center, a Savannah lawyer who ran for Congress against Newt Gingrich in 1992, reported raising $303,243 - his own money plus $47,961 in contributions - with $215,924 still on hand.

That puts Mr. Walker's bank balance at just $43,462 more than Mr. Center's.

"It is now a two-man race," Mr. Center declared of the Aug. 20 primary. "I see a runoff in this race, and I think I'll be in the runoff. And when it's one-on-one, anything can happen."

Walker campaign strategist Doug Moore said Mr. Walker's early success still gives him an advantage. The candidate has already paid for polling and his first TV ads are scheduled to air in Augusta and Savannah in the next two weeks.

"All in all, we're clearly the best fund-raiser in this district, and we're going to continue this trend," Mr. Moore said. "(Walker) is raising money and the others are giving their own money - and that's a big difference."

With Mr. Center spending $5 of his own money for every $1 he's raised from contributors, it's unclear how serious a contender he will be at the polls, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

"If you've got the money, you can throw it at your own campaign," Dr. Bullock said. "The problem with that is it doesn't indicate any real groundswell of support."

Augusta attorney Chuck Pardue was the only other Democrat to file an electronic disclosure with the Federal Election Commission.

That likely indicates fund-raising troubles for the remaining four contenders, because the election commission requires electronic filing for candidates raising $50,000 or more. Others can mail in their reports.

Mr. Pardue reported total funds of $157,116, of which $125,395 was his own money. He had $132,216 remaining in the bank.

Democrats in the Georgia Legislature drew the 12th District, one of two seats the state gained from the 2000 census, around a large population of Democratic voters to give their nominee a distinct edge in November.

But Republicans haven't conceded the race. GOP candidate Barbara Dooley of Athens, wife of University of Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley, waited until May to enter the race. But she's already raised $235,244 from contributors, with $209,119 left on hand.

Her sole primary opponent, Georgia Southern University professor Max Burns, reported raising $84,000 and had $67,898 in the bank.